For centuries drums have been known for their powerful, magical qualities. Traditional healers from many different cultures around the world have used their intangible qualities for music therapies throughout the ages.
Only recently however, have we begun to understand the changes in body chemistry produced by drumming. Recent studies published in 2001 had remarkable outcomes using drums and rhythm and the impact on the immune system..see http://www.remo.com/portal/pages/hr/research/Interview+Immune+System.html
Playing percussion can free your emotions and nourish them, enliven a low mood, help your mental clarity and even lend energy to your physical being.
For me, the impact of rhythm and drumming for therapy can be truly judged in the real life working situations, where I have used it. I have personally witnessed some amazing results and have been fortunate to be able to apply my sessions to many different groups and see first hand what effect it has had upon them.
I have documented my experiences and thoughts below and whilst every group and case presents different challenges, I'm very excited about the success and benefits it's had upon the participants.
Drumming for the Elderly:
The development of Drumming Circles for the elderly is a new phenomenon that is rapidly spreading worldwide in forward thinking organizations. The sessions provide some major health benefits as well as providing an opportunity for fun, social interaction, improving the lives of all who participate.
Nursing homes have reported seeing higher energy levels and a boost in morale since drumming became part of the routine.
Music therapists have long used music to connect people, especially the elderly. Unlike speech, music is processed in multiple areas of the brain. The limbic system is activated by the emotional response to music, while the elements of music, such as rhythm, pitch and melody, activate other areas of the brain.
Elderly people suffering from late stages of dementia often show responses to music, including vocal activity, increased eye contact, changes in facial expression and physical movement.
Drumming provides a welcome diversion, inspires creativity and helps long term care residents bond together. It brings an immediate reduction in feelings of loneliness and isolation. The physical exercise is also extremely beneficial, especially to the upper body. Drums can be strapped to wheelchairs and there are numerous percussion instruments that are suited to virtually anyone who wants to join in the rhythm.
The staff of old age/nursing homes are also equally enthusiastic about the unique activity as it allows them to also engage and join in, relieving stress and forming new bonds with the participants.
Drumming for the Physically & Mentally Disabled:
I have worked with many different groups of people comprising of Down Syndrome, Autistic, Deaf, Paralysed, Blind and the Mentally and Physically disabled. During these sessions I have been consistently learning how to adapt drumming and percussion to best suit the individuals involved and have witnessed some amazing things during my sessions.They have and continue to be the most rewarding drumming sessions of my life.
Amazingly, all of the individuals that have attended my sessions, have come together as a group and shared a magical rhythmical experience together, united by adding their own contribution, no matter how small it may be, how out of time, how loud, how soft or how vocal......they are partaking !!
By using my own carefully produced soundtrack we all sound amazing. Drums are strapped to wheel chairs, chimes are gently run over fingers, hands are placed on bass drums to feel the vibrations. The smiles on the faces tell the story. The grounding, stable and consistent beat centres the participants and the rhythms can be felt throughout the body.
Stresses and frustrations are taken out on the drums. Sounds are achieved directly and simply in a way that says "this is me, here I am" without complications of melody and harmony.
The drumming and music seems to have a happy, calming effect and always helps soothe the mind of the participants, allowing most to be able to simply sit for up to an hour and enjoy the surrounds, partaking when they want to and engaging with their peers.
Drumming with Autism:
I witnessed one young man with autism who struggled to partake in activities available at the respite centre. After one of my sessions he came to see what was happening in the room. He stood at the doorway smiling, obviously enjoying what he was seeing and hearing but he refused to come in to the room when asked. The following week he came and sat at the very back of the room and watched. I could tell he was very interested in the drums and the sounds being made.
I engaged him smiling and drumming from a distance. He would watch intently but whenever I would look at him he quickly looked down at the floor with a big smile on his face. The following session he sat in with the rest of the group, becoming more familiar with the sounds and noises and touched a few of the instruments but did not play them. Three sessions down the track he now stands in the middle of the drum circle and plays the cowbell smiling the whole time.
He also straps on the drum and plays with the rest of the group. I believe the repetitive rhythms calm him and keep things nice and stable for him to participate with others in the group.
Drumming Workshop for the Blind:
I recently did a session for some children with a degenerative eye disease. The ages of the children were from 2-18. Some were partially blind and others were completely blind and in wheel chairs. We explored all the different sounding percussion instruments and enjoyed the vibrations and hitting the drums. The music created a festive atmosphere in which the carers and the children opened up and had a great time together playing, smiling and expressing themselves. It was very rewarding for all those involved.
Drumming Workshop Children with Cancer:
One of the most moving experiences of my life was holding a session for some children with cancer. It was at an end of year camp and my session was to follow an emotional meeting where the children were encouraged to share their own experiences and the effects it had upon their lives. When the children entered the room the mood was heavy and the strain was showing on many of the little faces in front of me. The aim of the drum session was to lift the spirits of the children and let them end the camp on a happy joyous note.
It started gradually with everyone exploring the drums and different percussion instruments. Then the magic happened when two girls got caught up in the rhythm and stood up and started dancing, playing tambourines and cow bells. Directly after this another two from the other side of the room joined them and within 5 minutes the whole room was on their feet, faces alive feeling the rhythm pour through their bodies. For the next 30 minutes the energy was bouncing around the room and we danced and played drums about the hall having the time of our lives.
It was a true indication of how drums can lift the energy of a group and it ended the camp in spectacular fashion.